Pandemic accelerates transition to new, more efficient tools
News
AICPA logo
Cart
searchSearch
search
burger
AICPA logo
  • Home
Pandemic accelerates transition to new, more efficient tools
News

Pandemic accelerates transition to new, more efficient tools

1 year ago · 4 min read

Editor's note: This article is part of the "Profiles in Productivity" series featuring insights from finance leaders across industries about the tools and techniques they used to motivate and lead their teams to productivity in 2020.

It’s been over a year since the coronavirus pandemic largely shut down the offices of Enterprise Community Partners, a national not-for-profit focused on affordable housing. And in that time, the organization has managed to move many of its most critical operations into a digital sphere that maximizes speed and connectivity — and has done it all remotely, without staff members having the benefit of in-person discussions.

That upgrade didn’t come without a cost. Sally Hebner, CPA, the group’s senior vice
president and CFO, said she has become accustomed to working 10-plus-hour days
from home, and her staff has put in thousands of hours as well.

But it’s been worth it, she said. “These changes are things that will help us be more efficient in the future,” Hebner said. “We found ways to do things more easily, more quickly, using virtual, and we’ll find ways to build on that.”

Using tech tools for virtual operations, communications, and signatures

A multifaceted organization with roughly 1,200 employees, Enterprise has several wings. It advocates for more affordable housing throughout the country, runs a community development financial institution that lends to and invests money in housing developers, and builds housing itself. The group has 11 regional offices around the country, with headquarters in Columbia, Md.

The organization’s employees experienced the start of the COVID-19 shutdown like many others: with a sudden call to go home. “We basically closed the office on pretty short notice,” said Hebner, who is in charge of 80 employees. A 16-year veteran of Enterprise, she formerly worked at KPMG and The Rouse Company, whose co-founder James Rouse later established Enterprise. “I went around and said, ‘If you need to take equipment home, take it home.’”

But despite being blindsided, Enterprise had a few things working in its favor. Several years ago, the organization had moved everyone to laptops, including the finance department. A few months before the shutdown, it had begun a transition from Verizon to Zoom phone service. The company had also already switched to some cloud-based systems using multifactor authentication, but once the office closed, it fully embraced the Microsoft suite of tools, including SharePoint, Teams, and OneDrive.

“For finance, there’s a lot out there that said 40% of what accountants can do should be automated. So we’ve been leaning into that,” Hebner said.

But like finance departments around the country, Hebner’s team struggled to work around the need for fresh, handwritten signatures on checks, documents, and IRS returns. “Until Jan. 1, we were on an older platform and didn’t have a lot of ACHs [automated clearing house authorizations],” said Hebner. “We had to go into the office twice a week to do a check run.” She and her team still visit the office regularly to receive and print checks, but they’ve found some useful workarounds to the signature problem.

For one, they converted many vendors and payers to ACH authorization. And they also took advantage of various tools the team had experimented with in the past: DocuSign; OneDrive, which allows employees to create a PDF of a document with their signature on it; and an updated version of Adobe software, for scribbling a signature digitally. And in some cases, Hebner said, they found ways to make payments — for personal property tax returns and licensing fees, for example — online, using a corporate credit card.

“In certain cases where a true wet signature is needed, we find a FedEx box,” said Hebner. “But it’s a very small minority now.”

The big lift: migrating to a new ERP

But the challenges of adapting the finance team’s daily duties to a remote environment were small potatoes compared to one very big job they took on at the same time: migrating to a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform called Workday. Coincidentally, the department had planned to begin the process on March 1, 2020 — just before the shutdown started — with a goal of being ready to launch 10 months later, on Jan. 1, 2021.

“We knew the timeline was a little aggressive,” Hebner said. “It’s a very major project.” But during a shutdown, when vacations were limited and commutes nonexistent, a massive undertaking like this was actually something of a boon: Employees could distract themselves from the news, put their heads down, and focus.

Enterprise hired a consultant to assist and keep the process on track as the finance team migrated its data to a system with far more options and functionality than they were used to. The timeline was fast and intense, moving from strategy and planning to designing the new system’s architecture and operations, and then to creating prototypes and putting the new software through extensive tests. “Testing was particularly challenging; we had to compile data from multiple legacy systems to map to Workday,” Hebner said.

The transition isn’t quite over; closing the first quarter will probably be a doozy of a task, one that will take longer than usual. But the worst of the process is behind them. After double-checking every last system and process, Hebner’s team converted its data one final time and then went live on Jan. 1.

Because the team had already been running test scripts and managing the systems for months before the “go” date, the launch was largely smooth and successful.

“We’re now in the process of operationalizing it,” she said.

Her team is peppered with longtime Enterprise employees with deep experience, and that’s helped: They work well together and support one another.

Big-picture view of all things not-for-profit

Join us June 7-9 for the Not-for-Profit Industry Conference. You’ll learn from experts about accounting standards updates, scenario planning, COVID 19 accounting challenges, how to develop your finance talent and more.

Read other articles in the series: “Creativity and Communication Pay Off,” “How Stack Overflow Raised Millions While Working Remotely,” and “Trust and Technology Keep Productivity Up During Pandemic.”

Amanda Abrams is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, a JofA senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.

What did you think of this?

Every bit of feedback you provide will help us improve your experience

What did you think of this?

Every bit of feedback you provide will help us improve your experience

Related content